Truckers call them DOT days, those multi-day events where it seems every law-enforcement department and agent in the country is bent on turning his ticket book into a tome the size of "War and Peace." As a result, they've come up with some creative interpretations over the years.
For the record, I'm not opposed to traffic tickets. I've been pulled over, patted down, written up, and hauled away--sorry, the last wasn't for a driving offense. Like life, some tickets are good, some bad, and way too many go unwritten. I'd hate to be the one calling for more traffic enforcement, but I do occasionally pause to reflect.
Years ago, I had to engage one law-enforcement pal to ticket another law-enforcement officer who, while off-duty, loaded a pallet of bricks in a borrowed pickup and did absolutely nothing to secure them. After a good portion of those bricks entered the cab during a quick stop, it cost a few thousand 1992 dollars to fix the damage. My friend cited him for loose load, load obstructing driver, and so forth, but since the pickup driver knew he screwed up and the citing officer knew it would be used against him, he didn't go to court.
Not long after that, another friend was pulled over in his personal Caprice. It was 100-percent street legal, and he worked for the Department of Justice, but more surprising than having been picked out of a sea of same-speed traffic was how the on-duty officer treated the situation. He stood a foot in front of this Caprice to study the license plate, grille, and headlights. Figuring that anyone standing directly in front of a running car with a questionable driver behind the wheel wasn't all that bright, procedure or otherwise, my friend took the ticket, went to court, and prevailed.
Another friend recently received a ticket for 52 mph in a 35 zone. He was driving a 1984 VW Rabbit diesel with a broken first gear. When it was new, that car's 48 horsepower would run zero to 60 in the high teens; when he had to start in second gear, anything under 25 would be good. Since he'd just passed an intersection with a stop sign, it was easy to demonstrate that the car simply wouldn't reach anything approaching 52 mph in that distance, so I suggested to the department's traffic sergeant that there may have been an error with that radar gun. His reply: "Ya think?" The citing officer didn't show up for the court date.
Silly tickets aren't just an American phenomenon, as my mother-in-law recently proved in Europe by powering her 1.0-plus-liter Peugeot to 57 kph in a 50 zone (35 mph in a 31 zone) under a radar camera, receiving a $20 fine and picture in the mail. I'm happy to say that the same speeds here--in a rural area, in good weather, at night with no pedestrians--wouldn't result in a fine, unless you did it in a speed-trap area.
But my favorite ticket story comes from Connecticut in the 1970s, during DOT days. A trucker cruising down the Interstate at the posted speed limit with a secure load in a relatively new rig got pulled over. Bear in mind my trucker buddies tell me that once they're pulled over they have to be cited for something, and that's where the nonsense usually starts.
This trucker was put through the wringer. A full walkaround and poke and prod underneath revealed no equipment faults, as one would expect on a new rig. The radio checks found no warrants or other driving-record blemishes, and a review of the comic books (the paperwork logs) also revealed no problems. However, a search of the cab, perhaps looking for another set of comic books, did finally yield a citable offense: a loose item in the cab.
And what was this loose item? A flashlight for predeparture inspection in the dark? A fire extinguisher, because they should always be handy? A bar for ratcheting tie-downs, or a hammer for checking tire pressures?
No, none of the above. This poor guy was cited for a loose pillow on his bunk. I can see a box of tissue causing minor injury in a sudden stop, but a pillow? And it opens the door as to the definition of "loose item." Does a water bottle in a cupholder qualify, or a pack of smokes, or a jacket (those zippers can be sharp, after all), or a map, or the paperwork log? This is a case where the "reason" crafted into the Constitution went out the window.
That's just one example of a ticket that shouldn't have been written and, if the truckers are correct, of a system that's broken if stopping a vehicle mandates a ticket.
Now it's your turn. Go to our Truck Trend Forums, or your typewriter, and tell us all about your most questionable ticket. We can't provide any legal help or protection, but we may be able to make you famous for all the wrong reasons.